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IN THE WEED: York Region Catholic students talk marijuana with experts

in the weed york region catholic students talk marijuana with experts - IN THE WEED: York Region Catholic students talk marijuana with experts

Students listen to a panel discussion during Thursday’s York Catholic District School Board conference addressing drugs and alcohol and the impact of legal marijuana. Feb. 16, 2018 – Mike Barrett/Metroland

For decades, the issue of kids smoking pot was relegated to the shadows: everyone knew some students indulged, but few dared discuss it.

Now, recreational marijuana is being made legal, and educators, police and mental health workers say it’s time to talk.

This week, the York Catholic school board gathered students together at Aurora board headquarters to shine a light on the issue, giving students a chance to ask the experts about the drug and what the new laws mean to them.

Here’s what was said:

Q: What is the impact of legalized marijuana for law enforcement and the criminal justice system?

A: DOUG MACRAE, YORK REGIONAL POLICE SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICER: For the first little while, I think we’ll see a rise in impaired driving. But there’s a misconception among youth that it’ll be a free-for-all. It absolutely will not. Instead of it being a criminal offence, it will be more like a traffic ticket, trying to keep you out of the courts. We haven’t been handed down any legislation yet, but $46 million has been set aside to educate public and institutions over the next five years, and York Regional Police has money to educate its officers.

Q: How does the officer test if a driver is under the influence?

A: NIGEL COLE, YRP DRUG RECOGNITION OFFICER: When there is an initial stop of a vehicle, the officer questions the driver, takes note of any slurred speech, redness of eyes, odours, looks for paraphernalia — roaches, joints, minute trace of marijuana tobacco. At that point, an officer may ask the person to walk a straight line, put finger to nose, and ask the person to tilt his head back and estimate 30 seconds (which is quite comical for people who are under the influence. For someone on cocaine, it’s immediate; someone on fentanyl you may be waiting 20 minutes).

If those tests are failed, the person is taken back to the station for tests on heart rate, blood pressure, temperature pupil dilation and urine. Toronto is doing a pilot project with a litmus test that’s being used in Australia to determine what type of drug you’re on, to eliminate the walking at the side of the road; we may all end up with that method eventually.

Offenders will be required to stay overnight in jail until they have sobered up. There will be an immediate licence suspension for 90 days, the car will be impounded for seven days and legal fees can start at $10,000.

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Q: What’s more dangerous — driving under the influence of marijuana or alcohol?

A: COLE: Studies have shown half a joint is equivalent to seven alcoholic beverages. You will not be able to walk a straight line; you will not be able to touch your finger to your nose. It’s incredible how much marijuana — and all drugs — impact your ability to operate a motor vehicle.

ELENA HASHEMINEJAD, YORK REGION PUBLIC HEALTH NURSE: We don’t look at which is worse than the other. Impaired driving is impaired driving. Anything you take has serious risks and consequences.

STACY DE SOUZA, CENTRE FOR ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH: Research is showing more and more young people 18-29 are at high risk of using cannabis and driving.

Q: Why is the proposed minimum age for legal pot use so low, when studies show that until you are 25 years old your brain is still under development?

A: MACRAE: The reason the government thinks this is the right age is because, if it’s any older, youth will buy off the street, and what’s on the street, in our experience, is almost always laced with something else — increasingly with fentanyl. If anything, it will get the junk off the street and money out of the pockets of criminals and it will be government-sanctioned, clean, medicinal marijuana.

Q: How long after you smoke pot do the effects linger in your system to impact driving?

A: HASHEMINEJAD: It’s a very complicated substance because it does stay in your body and if you’re a regular user, you’re going to experience impairment for a longer period of time.

DE SOUZA: It depends how often you’re using, the amount, the type of cannabis, whether you’re vaping or smoking joints. But you can take a blood or urine test three days after using and it will still show positive results. There should be a significant amount of time between using and driving, and I believe they are saying right now a minimum of four hours.

COLE: Back in the 1930s there was only three per cent THC (the active ingredient that makes you high) in cannabis, and now we’re up to 30 per cent, so there’s a huge difference in potency now on the street. It used to be impairment lasted three hours, but now it can be laced with other things and last much longer.

Q: If students are caught smoking on school property, can they be arrested?

A: MACRAE: If you’re under age, or if you’re carrying over 30 grams, you will get a ticket upwards of $200. You won’t have to go through the court process. But if you don’t pay it, you could have a criminal record.

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Q: Will it be an offence to provide marijuana to someone underage?

A: MACRAE: If you’re at home, and your parents serve you alcohol, it’s OK, but you won’t be able to do that with marijuana.

HASHEMINEJAD: If you provide cannabis to a minor there will be consequences, and if you grow it at home and give it to a minor there will be consequences. What’s encouraging, though, is a recent study asked people, if marijuana was legal, would they start using, and 58 per cent of Grades 9 to 12 students in York Region said they would not. Education is key to continue giving the message that marijuana causes harm to this age group’s developing brain.

Q: Do you think the pro’s of legalizing marijuana outweigh the cons?

A: COLE: I like this question because I get to give my personal opinion. You have peer pressure and drug dealers telling you about the great effects of marijuana, but I’m here to tell you there are some very negative effects. There are studies that marijuana lowers your testosterone; we call it ‘doobies make boobies.’ We’re finding 60 per cent of 14-year-olds are developing ‘boobies’. There’s a greater chance of having depression, anxiety, bipolar or schizophrenia. There are addictive qualities, psychosis risks, and it’s been proven to disrupt the neural pathways. The problem is, all this research has not had a chance to catch up to the laws. Trudeau is jumping ahead of the research and, unfortunately, you all are the guinea pigs and you have to make an educated choice.

COLE: They were having these same conversations in the 1920s when they legalized alcohol. It’s inevitable, it’s going to happen. In my experience as a police officer, the worst I’ve come across with people who are high on marijuana is they want to hug you. They’re really laid back unless they are the one-in-seven or -eight who has a psychotic episode. [Legalization] will get a lot of the crap off the street and put a dent in the wallet of criminals. I just hope that we will be educated enough, and parents take responsibility for educating their kids. Who locks away their liquor cabinet? I hope parents will be a lot more responsible when it comes to marijuana.

DE SOUZA: Not everyone gets psychosis, and I see way too many young people who used marijuana and faced criminal charges. That puts you at greater risk for not getting a job or travelling to the States, so I’m in favour of legalization.

HASHEMINEJAD: Canadian youth are among the highest users of cannabis in the world. Cannabis is being laced with other drugs, THC is not being controlled and the black market is strong. What we have in place right now is not working. Legalization may not be the answer, but the fact that we can sit today and have this conversation is because legalization is going forward. For many years we could not talk about it, about the harms or medicinal benefits. Now we have an opportunity to educate and regulate and do the research that has been lacking.

Original Article – YorkRegion

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